A Disingenuous Musher

Cacique is dead…

It was a terrible moment for the two friends who loved their Siberian Huskies so deeply. Gustavo called to Juan Pablo when his team came by. The beautiful orange colored dog with blue eyes was lifeless on the snow. Already before the race they had been anxious about the water they could hear running under the ice along the trail. What if the ice collapsed, dropping their dogs into the water? The warm weather, hot sun on the frozen beaver ponds and open trail between the scattered lengas and robles trees in the forest, and the excitement of the race had caused this tragedy. The two Argentinos could not accept that this happened.

Tony’s team came next. Cacique is dead, they cried out. What do you want me to do about it? He did not stop. Come on Charlotte he told his leader. Run, run, my babies. Juan Pablo helped load Cacique in Gustavo’s sled. They started on, but it was not the same race they began only fifteen minutes before.

I was already arrived at the restaurant Las Cottorras for half an hour when I heard the excitement. Gustavo would not cross the line until Juan Pablo came alongside, then the two could finish together. His friends were yelling at him and urging him ahead. Go! Adelante! The finish line is in front of you.

The two friends linked arms as their teams crossed under the arrival arch. TV cameramen from Buenos Aires and Paris recorded the moment. The sleds collided in the narrow space between the poles supporting the arch. Gustavo’s sled dumped to one side, Juan Pablo’s to the other. The dead dog was thrown out on the ground. Cacique jumped up and attacked one of his teammates.

I was giving my dogs another serving of water with a little food mixed in. It had been hot in the sun; it was still warm in the snow and shade among the trees beside the restaurant. In a corral within a few feet of the dogs, beef cattle were chewing on hay. We could smell the green hay and the lamb roasting at the fire pit on the other side of the restaurant. Gustavo and Juan Pablo’s teams were still in harness. The two drivers had their arms around each other, faces wet with tears. As friends came over, they would share in their grief, sobbing and hugging one another.

I sat on the stump watching my own dogs resting comfortably; they were only slightly interested in the commotion around them. Finally I decided to help the dogs from Gustavo’s team that were tangled in their lines. To keep them apart and settle them I gave them water with a sprinkle of food in the bowls I used for my dogs. When I came to Cacique, the last dog, he growled and tried to bite me. I liked you better dead, I was thinking. I went back to sit on the stump beside my team.

Take this away! The veterinarian from Cargill Doggie dog food company was saying to Gustavo. Don’t you know that will kill the dogs with stomach torsion? Water, food, after running is not safe for one hour. I was glad that Gustavo had recovered from grief enough to remember his dogs. Now I pretended not to be associated with the crime of watering dogs after a race. When the veterinarian’s girl friend came by I asked her in French what was going on. Why were Gustavo and Juan Pablo so unhappy? After all, the dog was not dead. It was Tony, she said in her Spanish French, pronouncing all the last consonants. He hurt them badly when he would not stop. They thought he was their unconditional friend in this beautiful sport. It was a shock to them. What about the water for the dogs, I asked, I do it when the weather is hot or cold. I think the veterinarian does not have as much experience with sled dogs in this subject. The next day Elena recounted that the girl friend had told the veterinarian that I said he was “incompetente.”

Don’t let any dogs loose. They might chase the cattle and injure them! The restaurant owner was worried about the wolf-like dogs in his yard. These Herefords looked rather like range cattle to me. I remembered the time Don Montgomery stopped in Edmonton to buy meat, driving his dog truck up to Alaska. This was a place that slaughtered horses. Don was both a musher and a horse breeder from Ohio, closer to Kentucky than to Alaska, immensely proud of his colt out of Secretariat . One dog charged into the corral with horses. Don ran into the office to tell them a dog was loose attacking the horses. They laughed. It was not a fair match for the dog. The first horse kicked the dog in the head and almost killed him. Some of the horses had been raised and sold by outfitters along the Alaska Highway. Those horses knew wolves and they knew what to do about that. Another time in Argentina one of the ponies tried to reclaim and eat the hay we had used for bedding the dogs. This horse was winning against the “dogs in the manger” until Monique and I ran him off.

(By the way, stomach torsion is more likely a result of what happens after feeding or watering, not directly caused by when you do it. Many sled dogs are snacked or watered on the trail and then take off immediately. When I asked him about the “dangers” of watering dogs, Doc Lombard told me that because of the hot weather where he lived near Boston, Massachusetts, and the need to stay close to home during the week on into the Autumn when mushers in other locations could be doing serious training, he could not run  his dogs very far. But as a minimum to keep them in shape he would hook up teams of dogs, run them out a mile. give them a pint (400 ml) of water and then run them back to the kennel. My impression is that stomach torsion in athletic dogs is more likely a result of some extraordinary excitement after feeding a big meal, not a snack or moderate amount of water.)

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